How to Use There, Their, and They’re Correctly
by Owen Fourie
There are words that sound alike, but they’re spelled differently. They have their special name. They’re called homophones, which means “same sound.”
Perhaps you noticed that I used three of these homophones in the first three sentences of this article: there, they’re, and their.
In your writing, it is important to show that you know the distinction between these sound-alike words. Let’s deal with them here:
Here are some examples of how there is used:
- Let’s have our picnic there under that tree. (as an adverb);
- There are ants on the picnic blanket. (as a pronoun);
- I ought to have placed the blanket under that tree there. (as an adjective; informal usage, for emphasis);
- I would like to take a photo from there. (as a noun);
- There, now we have no more ants! (as an interjection);
- There is a squirrel on that branch;
- There are clouds gathering on the horizon.
In the last two examples, the verb following the pronoun there agrees in number with the noun following it (singular: “squirrel is”; plural: “clouds are”). This is the rule where there is a copula or linking verb (is, are, seem, appear, remain).
Their is the third person plural possessive adjective, the possessive form of they.
Here are some examples of how their is used:
- They arrived home from their picnic.
- Emma was squeamish about the ants, and she had a hard time with her friends as she tried to ignore their teasing her.
- Emma said that the presence of the ants was enough to make many pack their stuff and leave.
- Emma said that the presence of the ants was enough to make anyone pack their stuff and leave. (incorrect: see the explanation below)
Although accepted and quite common, strictly speaking, the fourth example is not correct.
This occurs more frequently now because of gender sensitivity. Their is used to avoid saying “her stuff” or “his stuff” or the awkward “his or her stuff.”
It is better and correct when using their in a case like this to change the antecedent.
To be consistent in number, the plural their would have to be preceded by a plural indefinite pronoun as in the third example – many.
This word is a contraction of two words, a subject and a verb, they are, and it is seldom confused with there and their.
It is mentioned here simply to be sure that you are aware of this contraction’s similar sound to the two words that are often confused.
In your formal writing, you should avoid contractions, so you would write “they are,” not “they’re.”
If you are writing a story, it would be acceptable for the dialogue to contain the contraction “they’re.”
How familiar are you with the confusion of there, their, and they’re? Are there other points like this for which you would like some clarification? Your comments, observations, and questions are welcome.
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